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Junior G-Men (1940)



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I'm probably being too generous with this serial from Universal, but I can't help it: pulp like this is just plain fun. The more cheeseball things it did, the more I liked it. Small wonder why later directors like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg would have a passion for making movies that recalled the heyday of serials. This isn't even one of the better ones, but it has all the juicy trademarks that carry the appeal. I particularly enjoyed the introductory scrolls before each chapter that summarized the events thus far: the text scrolls by on a flat plane, receding in the distance, exactly like Lucas emulated years later with the Star Wars films.

Junior G-Men was part of Universal's Little Tough Guys series, a low-budget spin-off from Warner Brothers' Dead End Kids series. Most of the series consisted of short and dry films, but there was the odd serial in the midst of it, Junior G-Men being one. There are 12 chapters, each one running about 20 minutes long. Each chapter would end on a cliffhanger that surely spells certain doom for the heroes: usually they would involve a building blowing up or a vehicle plummeting off a cliff. Then the beginning of the next chapter would replay the scene with a shot inserted to show how the goodguys got away in the nick of time. Phew!

Gags like this are gleefully cheap, and darned if they don't recall times when action movies didn't have to be disguised in the A-list. This is the unapologetic equivalent of the old dime novels, where fist fights and shoot-outs were all part of the daily routine for coppers and hoods, scientists were always being kidnapped by gangsters in need of doomsday devices, and wiseguy street kids save the world. Ah, those were the days.

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